"You've Got Mail"
In this age of technology, snail mail has given way to email and conversations have given way to text messages. I am the first to admit that it is a lot easier to send a text message or email then it is to sit down and write a letter or pick up the phone. After all we live busy lives, but unfortunately in this age of technology and social media we have forgotten what it means to socialize and lost the art of communication. I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to checking my phone during the course of a meal. It has become a habit. Our phones are always with us, and if they aren’t then we feel somewhat lost.
But I am still a little old fashion. As much as I love emails, I am one of those weird people who love to check the mail. Now I don’t know exactly where this obsession with mail came from. Perhaps it stems from when I was younger and used to stay with my grandmother. My grandmother would spend the whole morning and part of the afternoon waiting for the mail to run. Oftentimes she wouldn’t leave the house until the mail came. I can hear her now asking, “Do you think the mail’s run yet?” And then she would send me to the mailbox to check. I would return carrying a bundle of mail and hand it to her and then watch her as she sorted through each piece and categorized it. I can see her now looking up at me, with her glasses on the end of her nose, saying, “The only thing that comes is bills and junk mail.” And, as I would learn in time, that is true. Still, like her, I find myself anxiously checking the mail. I used to have the habit on trash day of blocking my mailbox with the trashcan and to my disappointment the mail carrier wouldn’t deliver my mail that day.
Perhaps, my excitement in checking the mail comes in not knowing what awaits me in that little medal box! Maybe there will be a check from the Publisher’s Clearing House, or a card with some money in it, or an encouraging note or some invitation to a wedding or a party. What I’ve learned is, most of the time, my grandmother is right – it’s usually just bills and junk mail.
I will never forget the day one of my former parishioners stopped by the church office to visit me. When he walked into my office, I noticed he was carrying a brown box. As he sat it on my desk and opened it, I saw what looked like hundreds of letters. The paper was worn and had a yellowish tint to it, so I knew they must be old. I remember being amazed when he told me that they were letters he had written to his wife while he was in the Navy. These were the more than a hundred love letters that were written while he was overseas. More than sixty-years have passed and he still had them and from time-to-time, they will read them to each other.
Letters have no real value, in and of themselves, until used to form words, and then they become expressions of one’s heart and soul. Of course, these expressions can be both positive and negative depending on what is written or said. Words are powerful! Whoever said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” was wrong! Words do hurt! While words may not necessarily break our bones, they can certainly break our hearts. Words have the power to build up or tear down; they can lift up or knock down; they can set free or hold captive. Words are powerful and influential when spoken in love. Words are destructive and devastating when spoken in hatred or anger. Sometimes our words are misinterpreted or misrepresented.
Not too long ago, my son heard me say the “s” word. I didn’t mean to say, it slipped out of my mouth. For the next week or so, he had a habit of saying this word to get a reaction out of me. Finally, I was able to break him of this habit. But he is quick to point out to me whenever I say a curse word. Now, I will be the first to admit that my language isn’t always the cleanest. From time-to-time, I have a tendency to curse. I try not to around my children, but sometimes it slips. Something will anger or upset me and I will curse.
While I do resolve to stop cursing, I think there are far worse things we can say then the “s” word or “f” word. In his letter to the Ephesians, the writer challenges us with the words, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit whose who listen” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).
I don’t necessarily think the “unwholesome talk” the writer is speaking of are curse words. I think the writer is reminding us of the power of our words. Words have a tendency to stick with us. I can still recall words that have been spoken to me that have broken my heart and pierced my soul – words that tore me apart emotions. But I also can recall words of kindness and love that were spoken to me and strengthened my heart and uplifted my soul. I have letters of encouragement that I have received that will always remain tucked within my heart.
What words can I speak or write that will express love and affection to the people in my life? What words can I speak or write that will encourage those who are down and comfort those who are hurting? What words can I speak or write that will influence and impact my children?
I can’t think of a more vital tool than our words. Our words are like gifts, whether spoken or written, that we can give to one another. Think of the power of your words –written and spoken! I think of those letters penned by that couple more than sixty years ago, that still influences their love today. As Samuel Butler wrote, “Letters are like wine; if they are sound they ripen with keeping. A man should lay down some letters as he does a cellar of wine.”
One of my favorite movies is Doubt. It is a powerful drama that is set in the mid-1960’s and is centered around a rather strict and suspicious nun who confronts a priest, Father Flynn of abusing a black student. Father Flynn has a loving and caring relationship with the children of his perish and Catholic school, especially this one particular child who is the only black student in the school. When confronted with these accusations, he denies them. Much of the movie’s quick-fire dialogue tackles themes of religion, morality, and authority. The nun’s accusations cause a lot of pain to the character and moral of Father Flynn. In one of the most unforgettable scenes, Father Flynn delivers a powerful sermon on gossip in which he uses a metaphor of a woman on a rooftop gutting a feather pillow and letting the feathers fly everywhere. He says stopping gossip is like trying to collect all of the feathers and put them back into the pillowcase – it’s impossible. Gossip bears false witness against your neighbor, it destroys a person’s character and moral, it ruins reputations, it severs relationships, not only does it tarnish the one who is gossiped about but also the one who gossips – for such a person cannot be trusted.